Writer and translator Daniel Hahn’s funded scouting trip gives 10 editors of varying experience the chance to explore what Bologna has to offer. He discusses the aims of it below:
Why did you launch the project?
I’ve been involved in a number of projects over the years to try and promote more international children’s books in the UK—it remains astonishing to me how Anglocentric our children’s books world has become in recent years. Ninety-five per cent of the world doesn’t have English as a first language.
In particular, I worked with BookTrust on its brilliant In Other Words scheme, which selected a small number of foreign books to promote to UK publishers, and over the past couple of years it has resulted in several really interesting acquisitions; this new project seemed like a logical next step.
Was it difficult to set up?
Not especially. I was lucky to get funding from Arts Council England to run it on the scale I wanted—its support makes all the difference, but I also have a number of partners involved. It was BookTrust and the British Council principally, as well as other organisations such as Words without Borders, and many, many individuals in the translation and children’s publishing world. Everybody I asked to help out as a favour agreed. It’s been a lovely team effort, with a lovely team.
What is your background or previous experience in children’s literature?
I’ve been working on the fringes of the children’s books world for a long time. Fifteen years ago a couple of friends and I published the first in a series of reading guides for children and teenagers, The Ultimate Book Guides, and many more volumes in that series followed. I’ve also reviewed children’s books and done round-ups for newspapers, edited anthologies, interviewed many dozens of children’s and YA writers at festivals, taught a children’s literature course at a university, and in 2015 published the new edition of the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. I talk and write about children’s books in translation particularly—on the radio, at public events, etc—and have translated maybe 15 children’s books.
Do you think there is a growing appetite for literature in translation in the UK—and if so, why is that?
Yes, definitely. It’s slower to pick up in the children’s books world, but certainly in adult fiction there has been quite a swell of acquisitions. It’s not just that more translated work is being published (and more varied work), but also that it is achieving more visibility and more success. This hasn’t been matched in the children’s world yet, but I’m hopeful (and persistent).
How did you select the applicants?
I was delighted to receive so many good applications—though it made the selection process more difficult, and I actually ended up stretching the scheme to include 10 editors rather than my originally intended eight. I wanted great editors who had little or no experience acquiring and publishing work in translation but were enthusiastic to do so; this scheme will enable editors who wouldn’t otherwise be going to Bologna to explore what the rest of the world has to offer.
I’ve ended up with 10 brilliant people, with very varied amounts of experience and from very different kinds of [publishing] houses, but all of whom really want to find ways of helping to internationalise our market. I’m incredibly excited to see what they find.
Will you have any tips for the editors on the scheme about which publishers from different countries have good books?
That an impossible question to answer! And it’s one of the challenges for the group of editors, too: how to choose from the immense number of possibilities. Think how hard it would be to select only a couple of publishers with good books just in the UK—then extrapolate that, multiplying to cover the other 200-odd countries in the world. There’s just so much.
The first publisher that springs to mind is Planeta Tangerina in Portugal—I love its work (it won a Bologna Ragazzi prize this week). But there are literally thousands of others...